Friday, August 21, 1998 Published at 15:30 GMT 16:30 UK
Disappointment need not mean disaster
For many thousands, the A level results will be bad news: they will not have done as well as they had hoped.
What is it?
Clearing works by matching up students who have not secured a place on a course with institutions which have spare places. It is handled, as with normal applications, by Ucas - the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.
The service's Chief Executive, Dr Tony Higgins, says it is not a mad scramble for places.
"If you're flexible and have reasonably good exam results, your chances of getting in to higher education are excellent," he says. "Last year more than 54,000 people found places through clearing, so the message from Ucas is: 'Don't panic!'"
Who is it for?
Clearing applies to people not already holding offers, who applied after the final deadline of 30 June, or who had conditional offers not confirmed when the results came out - for example, someone who had been offered a place if they got two Bs and a C in their A levels but who achieved, say, three C grades.
Those who are eligible will be sent what is known as a clearing entry form automatically by Ucas. Everyone should have received one by 1 September at the very latest.
What to do
First, fill in the details on the form: obvious enough but it will not go do well if you omit them.
Then find out which courses have vacancies. Official lists of these will be in some newspapers, on Ceefax on BBC2 pages 700 to 799, and on the Ucas Website at http://www.ucas.ac.uk/, along with more advice.
Telephone the institutions offering the courses you are interested in. Ucas advises doing this yourself: do not leave it to teachers or parents because admissions tutors are far less likely to be impressed if they cannot hear from you yourself.
If you are asked to send in your clearing form, they are in effect making you an offer. Do not necessarily jump at the first one you get. But if you are sure, then go ahead.
It is always worth taking the trouble to visit the place, have a look around, ask questions. Nobody wants you to jump in without considering all the options, then drop out because you are not happy there.
All being well, the college or university will check what you have put on your clearing form and confirm to Ucas that you have a place. Ucas will confirm that in writing to you.
There is an alternative known as central clearing by which you can let Ucas try to place you. This is really intended for overseas applicants or for those who are, unavoidably, away during clearing.
It is much better to do the job yourself.